There are plenty of things to like about Batman’s rogues gallery – the most famous array of villains in all of comic books – but one thing worth noting about its major members is their names. Names that not only reflect the villains’ MOs, but their character as well. What does “The Penguin” tell us about the character? Well, it reflects the fact that his crimes are based around birds, but also that he has an uppity and pretentious personality, given the regal yet somewhat comical nature of the Emperor Penguin. The Scarecrow is not only a villain obsessed with fear, but an awkward, gangly nerd who’d fall over as soon as you tap him.
And then there’s the big Bat-villain, The Joker. What does his name say about him? Well “joker” means a clown or a comedian, and Joker is an evil clown who uses lethal versions of comedy props. On the other hand, Joker is also the name of a playing card, so it’s a name that fits in with the smoky film-noir feel a lot of Batman stories have, and gives us the impression of a slick gambler – of lives, that is. The Joker is supposed to be a “Lord of Misrule”, creating chaos while Batman creates order, so why not name him after a wild card? There’s only one joker in a pack of cards, and there’s no villain in Gotham as sadistic and insane as the Joker.
Sadly, there are instances of Batman stories where “The Joker” only means a villain who tells jokes and likes to laugh a lot. Such is the case with The New Adventures of Batman episode “He Who Laughs Last”.
Yes, we’ve looked at The New Adventures of Batman three times before, but it’s worth looking at an episode where the Joker is the main villain. We’re looking at this series to see the way Batman has changed over the years, and that can be seen through the way Joker has been portrayed in major adaptations. Nowadays the general public sees Batman as being dark and dramatic, and thus, The Dark Knight brought us a sinister, almost-demonic Joker. 1989’s Batman was supposed to introduce a darker Batman to the general public, so while its Joker was silly and comical, he was still more murderous and maniacal than Cesar Romero’s portrayal of the character in the 1966 TV series.
Now, I love me some of the 1966 TV series, but I never found their Joker as entertaining as say, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin or Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. There was nothing that really made him any different from the other villains aside from having a clown gimmick. Oh, and a moustache under his makeup, I guess. That said, he’s definitely a step-up from New Adventures’ Joker. That Joker has nothing really distinct about him other than a weird voice and is a bit of a coward too. On his own, he is not a very impressive villain, but the fact that he bears the name and appearance of one of the greatest antagonists in comic book history makes him seem even more of a loser.
The episode begins with a penitentiary, where Joker is making his escape. Now, right from the very start we can see that this is a different Joker than the one modern audiences are used to. Nowadays, Joker is usually incarcerated in Arkham Asylum as opposed to regular jail, as he is, you know, criminally insane. Thing is, Arkham actually appeared in the comics before this cartoon aired (Arkham first appeared in 1974, this cartoon aired in 1977) and Joker was shown to be a patient there in the very first story. Not to mention the 70’s were when Batman stories in comics were getting darker and the Joker was written as more dangerous. Batman got more serious in 70’s comics, so the Batman cartoon of that period had aliens with shrink rays and magic body-switching slime. Makes sense.
Anyway, Joker distracts the guards with a dummy of himself. How’d he smuggle that in? Did he put it up his ass or something? It would explain the dummy’s expression. He also managed to smuggle in a rope and grappling hook(!), which he uses to climb the walls so his “Joker plane” – which has a reversed “J” the first time it appears – can pick him up.
So what can be said about this Joker? He has the most annoying voice ever, for one thing. It switches between this high-pitched witch cackle and a low tone that sounds like a game-show host. “You found my lair, Batman! Marty, tell him what he’s won!” Also, he laughs after every fucking sentence. And his laugh sounds like a parrot with laryngitis getting choked by a snail. A good laugh is key to a good Joker performance, so needless to say, this ain’t a good Joker.
We then see Batman and Robin (good old Adam West and Burt Ward) working on something called…something called…helium paint. It’s paint that makes things float when you spray it on them. Wouldn’t it make the container float then? And, how the fuck does it work anyway? What purpose does it have when you have a shitload of rockets, jetpacks and things that float and fly already? I doubt there’s a market for floating bits of wood.
It wouldn’t be a shitty cartoon without a shitty sidekick, so here’s Bat-mite, the little imp with magic powers. Say…doesn’t he use his magic powers to make things float? If you want things to float ask…no, don’t ask him to do anything. He surfs about a bit on the wood, knocking some paint on Robin’s shoes, making him float. Maybe that’s why Batman invented it, so he could say to Superman, ‘See, you’re not the only one who can fly, Mister Big-Shot!’ Batman gets Robin down with what looks like genie smoke, though. Wouldn’t be surprised if Batman actually had a genie, considering some of the feats he pulled off in the Silver Age, and even the Modern Age. Too bad genies can’t bring anyone back from the dead…
Gordon then calls Batman on the phone…wait, what? In the three episodes of this show I’ve looked at so far, he always makes Batman drag his ass to his office to explain the situation. Why do that if you can just call Batman on the phone, assuming Batman has a magic untraceable phoneline? Batman is told to take a look outside, and Batman goes up to the “Bat Tower” because he has one of those. Yep, a big tower with a bat atop it, outside Wayne Manor. Imagine Bruce Wayne having guests over…
GUEST: Wow, what’s that thing? And why does it have a bat on top of it?
BRUCE: It’s…um…a Halloween decoration I forgot to take down.
GUEST: Looks like the sort of thing Batman would have.
BRUCE: Yeah, but I sure ain’t Batman! I may be the only person in Gotham able to afford the gadgets and magic he uses, but, nope! I ain’t no Batman! Ha ha!
Anyway, it turns out Joker may pretty much know Batman’s identity, given that a bunch of papers instantly fall from the sky when Batman gets on top of the Bat Tower. That, or Joker’s been flying around on his Joker Plane, dumping paper everywhere. His list of crimes is long enough without adding littering. The paper contains a little rhyme where Joker challenges Batman and gives him a clue as to where he has committed his most recent crime. Oh yeah, Filmation couldn’t use the Riddler on this show as he was being used on Challenge of the Superfriends at that period, so I guess Filmation just said ‘Fuck it, Riddler, Joker, same thing.’
‘Holy Joker, Batman,’ says Robin. Oh come on, you can do better than that! Robin’s ‘Holies’ were a staple of the 1966 show and were always a treat to hear, but they’re so half-assed in this show. Because really, that’s all this is, a half-assed version of the 1966 series. That is low.
Batman instantly realises there’s a fire at the junkyard. I guess he saw it from his Bat Tower, or maybe the genie told him, I dunno. He gives a call to Gordon’s office, where there’s his daughter Barbara, who Bat-fans might also know as Batgirl. She decides to help Batman, and, oh boy, we’re gonna have Bat-mite grab onto her ass again, aren’t we?
The junkyard is on fire, leading Robin to proclaim, ‘Holy burning trash!’ See what I meant earlier? The boy’s not even trying. ‘I never thought the Joker would do anything like this!’ That’s because of the Joker you have to deal with. The Joker today’s audiences are more familiar with would have started that fire in a heartbeat, and maybe thrown some kittens and babies in there too. Batman deduces that Joker only meant to light a small blaze, only for the sparks to start the fire. ‘That’s what happens when you play with fire,’ says Batman, because this is suddenly Sonic Sez.
A little boy appears and gives Batman another clue. ‘I couldn’t wait, so please pursue. Pagliacci’s my favourite, and it’s also your clue!’ This of course, means that Joker is going to pull a job at the opera house. As another review said, this is Joker basically just telling Batman where he’ll be rather than leaving any ambiguity or thought. Let’s look at Batman the Animated Series, shall we? When Riddler was keeping his captive in a maze, he didn’t just say ‘Maze. That’s your clue.’ He said, ‘when is Mockridge as high as an elephant’s eye?’ referring to a song the show’s target audience wouldn’t likely be familiar with, and giving a clue that requires some deduction (corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and corn means maize).
Nonetheless, I love West’s delivery when he talks about Pagliacci: ‘It’s the story of a clown. NO WONDER THE JOKER LIKES IT.’
The boy also has a dog trapped in the fire, who Batman has to save. Oh, come on, we already have one annoyingly cute non-human sidekick! Batman rescues the dog and the dog licks him, with Batman giggling all the while. Oh god, this is what the Dark Knight has become. He’ll be rescuing kittens from trees next. As the fire is being put out, Batgirl appears and she basically just repeats everything Batman and Robin said about the Joker and Pagliacci. They ride to the opera house, and even though the fire was put out seconds before, it’s blazing again as the heroes ride off. Great to see they were paying attention.
At the opera house, the Joker dresses up like Batman and sprays everyone with laughing gas. When the real Batman gets to the scene, he is arrested. Hey! An actual interesting plot point! Batman gets put in police custody meaning Robin and Batgirl will have to solve the crime themselves, or have to try and get Batman proven innocent, or…
Oh wait the very next scene has Gordon realise it was the Joker in disguise and apologise to Batman well what was the point of having Joker dress up as Batman then couldn’t he just spray the laughing gas as himself what a load what a load
Next, Joker is going to a zoo, along with his pet hyena, siiigh, called Giggles. Now, in more recent appearances, the Joker has had two hyenas called Bud and Lou, referencing Abbot and Costello. This not only tells us that the Joker likes comedy, but a certain brand of comedy. “Giggles”, on the other hand, is the type of thing you call a hyena in a children’s picture book.
Batman takes Batgirl to the Batcave, where Bat-mite gives her the helium paint. Is that the helium paint’s purpose? To get into woman’s pants? Batman then calls Gordon on his Batcomputer…oh come on! If he can contact Gordon by phone or computer, why even have the Batsignal? Why have Batman drive all the way over to police headquarters to have him hear ‘Beat up the Penguin’ or whatever when you can do it by phone or computer? Gordon tells Batman to go to the zoo, and Batgirl decides to stay behind to use the Batcomputer. Why? She has “an idea”. Well, that’s good enough reason to leave a young woman in a top secret lair with a top secret computer which could possibly contain clues to your secret identity attended only by a childish imp.
Batman and Robin are at the zoo, where Robin says ‘Holy Float Like A Butterfly and Sting Like A Bee!’ Wow, that one actually had an iota of effort put in. Props to you, Robin. A kangaroo is seen bopping an inflatable Batman. I really want to know where Joker gets his props, where he gets all his wonderful toys, if you will. Where did that inflatable Batman come from? Was it bootleg merchandise? Also, he wrote his next clue on a pack of elephants, saying that Batman will ‘search for a friend’. Oh please let it mean he intends to kill Bat-mite, please let it mean he intends to kill Bat-mite.
Speaking of the elephants, Giggles breaks them out. How? He just laughs at them and it inspires them to smash the walls. Boy, this is a shitty zoo if the elephants can break out easily like this. What, was it designed by people who like playing Zoo Tycoon just to release wild animals on the patrons? Batman sees this and says ‘We have only one chance’ which he keeps saying throughout the damn series. I’m pretty sure he said it throughout Superfriends too.
He contacts the Batcave, and has Batgirl play circus music to stop the elephants. Silly Batman, you stop elephants from charging by taking away their credit cards! Hey, it’s a better joke than what this show has. Also, Batman keeps circus music on the Batcomputer. Maybe he was hoping to use it some day to lure the Joker out, or to make him slobber like Pavlov’s dog?
Back at the Batcave, Batgirl notes that Joker’s crimes are all spelling out his name. Yep, this is a Silver Age story alright. A similar technique was used in this story called ‘Acrostic of Crime’. Even then, it’s a bit reaching. Junkyard, Opera, Kangaroo, Elephant. But the kangaroo didn’t do anything. All it did was beat up an inflatable Batman, not the real Batman. Here’s a better acrostic: Batman saved a Cur, then Joker made everyone break into Raucous laughter, leading to Batman’s Arrest, then he released some Pachyderms. What does that make?
Batman calls Gordon to tell him about their findings, and Gordon suggests Robin goes to the railroad roundhouse. Except it’s not Gordon, it’s really the Joker. I’m not surprised Joker can pull off a good Gordon impersonation, considering they sound exactly the same. What I am surprised at is how Joker managed to intercept Batman’s phoneline. Maybe this Joker really does know Batman is Bruce Wayne. Some people actually have theorised that in the modern comics, Joker really knows Batman’s identity, but doesn’t attack Wayne Manor or anything because it would be too easy. Similar things have been said about Gordon and Two-Face too. It’s an interesting theory, but don’t expect this piece of crap to do anything about it.
Robin and Bat-mite go to the railroad roundhouse and oh crap the little boy and his dog are there. They’re going to become a major part of the episode, aren’t they? If I wanted crap like that in the DC Universe, I’d watch Krypto the Superdog. After Batman figures out that – gasp –something is up, Joker captures Robin. Because Robin was just standing around on a spot where there was a cage above him. What? Don’t you do that when you’re looking for a dangerous psychopath? Joker then puts Robin on a boxcar with a forklift, laughing an annoying laugh all the time. Alternating between sounding like a witch on helium and sounding like Santa Claus stuck down a well.
Bat-mite sees Robin being taken away, and rides the kid’s dog to him when he could have easily just teleported to Robin, or better yet, teleported Robin away from the boxcar. Still, he makes Robin’s boxcar go in a different direction, and as the Joker watches, Batman appears. Now I bet Joker’s going to prepare to battle the Dark Knight, use his many weapons on him…
‘OOOOOH! It’s BAAATMAN!’ *runs away while likely shitting himself*
Geez, even the Silver Age Joker wouldn’t be such a pussy. Keep in mind that in the comics during this period, they were making the Joker darker and more murderous. ‘The Joker’s Five Way Revenge’, where Joker killed someone with an exploding cigar and tried feeding Batman to a shark, had been printed before this cartoon aired. This is a step backwards, doncha think?
Joker nicks a train and hitches it up to Robin’s boxcar. Unfortunately, he’s nearing a broken bridge and can’t stop because the throttle’s broken. As he says, ‘THE THROTTLE’S BROKEN. WE CAN’T STOP.’ Just so you know, this is the reason why the helium paint was introduced, so Batman can make the train float. Then Bat-mite is given a ‘Hero’ badge BUT HE DID FUCK ALL BATMAN AND BATGIRL DID ALL THE WORK.
This wasn’t as entertaingly hilarious as other instalments of this show. The Batcomputer didn’t even talk – he did in the new Beware the Batman cartoon, didn’t he? More importantly, this is kinda a low point in the Joker’s history. He may have crippled Batgirl and killed Robin, but he also was taken to jail on a flying train and had a fucking hyena called Giggles. That’s not something you easily live down. He still deserves the name Joker, but only because he was such a joke.